Checking in

I realize it’s only been a few days since I last posted, but it feels longer than that. Or maybe it’s because so much of my posts have had to do with either The Green Mountain Relay or weird keywords people use to get to this site. It doesn’t feel like a site about my training anymore.

Maybe that’s because what I’ve been doing lately hardly qualifies as training. I’ve more been throwing in a few quality runs between races. I think I’ve raced something like 13 races so far this year (more like 16 if you could GMR as three races, which I kinda do). I’m not sure because I haven’t posted a report for every single one on the Races page. That, along with the Stats page, has been somewhat neglected.

Why all the neglect, you ask? Well, I’ve been working my ass off, for one thing. I’ve run my own little company since 1995. We have many clients, but for the past seven years one — IBM — has dominated my workdays. I’ve basically been a FT freelancer for them all this time, helping to manage one of their websites. In addition to that, I do lots of other editorial-related work for other people. So working 50-60 hours per week (sometimes more) has become the norm during many months of the year.

Jonathan works on his own projects most of the time (he’s the other half of my corporate empire of two). If we’re lucky, which is about 20% of the time, we get to work on projects together, which means we can have arguments over lunch, followed by accusations of sexual harassment. (I’ve often said that we could really clean up with a lawsuit against ourselves. Although the costs for defense would probably bankrupt us.)

About a month ago  I reached a couple of tipping points. For one, I realized that most of the freelance clients we had that were not IBM were paying us a great deal more than I was making working for them. I could slave away from them for 40 hours, or work for someone else for 20 or less and still come out ahead. I was finding that I had to turn down work to accommodate my 9-5 gig, and that was frustrating from a business standpoint.

Then I launched Houston Hopefuls while at the same time pursuing other running journalism projects (I hope to get paid for my first one soon). Those projects are quite time consuming. So in addition to 60+ hour weeks, I was piling on another 10-20 for these other interests, usually feeling too mentally drained to focus on them properly when I was working on them.

Where was the time left for basics, like, well, running, for one thing? And then there are other things like shopping, cleaning, paying bills, filing forms, hiring people to fix problems with our house. We were slipping into what I call “Our Lives Are Falling Apart Mode.” Mung gathers on the bathroom sink, the cat goes checkup/shotless, and we eat boring dinners that can be cooked in 15 minutes. I can tolerate living this way for limited periods, but lately it was becoming the norm, with no relief in sight. That was not acceptable.

So a week ago Monday I took a big step and dropped IBM as a client. I’m still working for them through mid-July at reduced hours, to tie up loose ends on projects, but I’m basically out of there. I may eventually work for them again in a purely editorial capacity — but that’s probably at least a year down the road, since the consensus seems to be that it will take that long for the people in the fancy chairs to realize they may have cut too deep and need to start rehiring.

Now I’m doing writing, editing and content strategy full time, having jettisoned the last vestiges of my somewhat fuzzy job description that basically amounted to web project manager/traffic cop. I am very happy with this new state of affairs. I love writing and the work I’m doing now (a lot of technology and finance writing for some big corporate clients) is interesting and even fairly creative at times. So my mind is engaged, but now it should only be taxed for around 40 hours a week, leaving lots more hours and brain cell processing cycles for other projects.

This week I worked Monday but I’m off until Sunday (when I need to get rolling on a freelance thing that’s due on Tuesday). Yesterday I got back to work on Houston Hopefuls, editing one interview and prepping for the next one. Today I’ll work on the interviews I did with the elites at the Mini 10K, even though they are quite late in coming. I hope they’re still of interest, since my questions were not related to that race per se. Then we spend a few days with family members whom I should have seen much earlier than this.

Last week felt like a watershed of sorts. I spent the previous weekend up in Vermont taking part in an event that was all-consuming. I was having a great time and didn’t have the mental space to think about anything else. But it was fun being there and knowing I was going to give myself some relief on Monday in the form of dropping IBM, and in doing so definitively reprioritize some things that are important to me.

Last but not least, the one nagging worry (besides ending up a bag lady, but that’s always there) was put to rest yesterday. Before the relay I’d gotten called back for a followup ultrasound after an iffy mammogram. At 40 I hit the age in which regular mammograms are expected. Now, at 45, I’m in False Positives territory. Everyone I know has them, and ruling things out is a matter of one unpleasant (and often invasive, painful or both) procedure or another. For me, it was getting an ultrasound and watching as the technician honed in on what appeared to be a grandfather clock in my left tit. She must have taken at least 200 glamor shots of it, with lots of circling and note-taking thrown in, just in case the drunken or glaucomic radiologist missed it. As I wrote to a friend, it was something so obvious that it was practically waving at us.

I braced myself for another round of breast mauling upon my return from Vermont. And at one point I found myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it suck if I had this great weekend, dropped a job I’ve been unhappy in for several years, got this running journalism thing going — and then learned I had cancer?” Yes, that would suck. On a truly colossal scale. I tried to put it out of my mind.

So, in addition to everything else good that’s happening these days, add in the absence of a very bad thing.

It’s a beautiful day today — the humidity is gone and it’s actually cool outside. Time for a run.

Green Mountain Relay: Art Shots

Upon arriving in St. Albans, VT last Friday, I wandered around and snapped some photos of the local high school across the street. Some of my teammates were running. Crazy kids.

Google search oddities

Today’s keyword treat:

“fuck a girl in ridgewood”

Yeah, well. Okay. Why the hell not?

I just wish I’d had better content for the poor Googler.

Race Report: Green Mountain Relay (Part 3)

In our last installment, I had showered and passed out with my two female vanmates in a cheap motel somewhere in Vermont at around 1:30 in the morning. I had my trusty Lunesta with me, but was hesitant about taking it. The stuff has a half life of about 4 hours, usually. But my internal clock was now so messed up that I wondered if it would compound my cumulative exhaustion the following morning. Yet, despite being tired, I realized while stepping out of the shower that my brain was still going. I took my chances and swallowed the blue pill.

About two hours later, the alarm went off. Wow. Was it hard to get up off that bed. Even more difficult was getting my head around the reality that I would be racing again in two hours. In the dead of night, we shoved ourselves back into the van and off we went to the next transfer point.

I don’t even remember what our start area looked like or any of the interactions with the other van’s team. My memory of those two hours is totally gone, if it was ever recorded. I must have eaten something, but I don’t remember what. In fact, I don’t even remember starting my last leg. My recollection of that race starts at about the .25 mile mark, when I felt some raindrops and thought, rather dimwittedly, “Oh, that’s nice. A little sprinkle to cool me off.”

Rainy days and Sundays always speed me up.

Three minutes later I was running through a downpour. But it was great. My leg was “easy” and under 3 miles. I raced that fucker, rain or no rain. It turned out to be my strongest leg of the three. I had been smart enough to pack my flats with the drainage holes. So the water poured right out as fast as it came in.

In the above photo you see me approaching the one person I would pass in this entire race. That’s The Captain’s hand on the steering wheel. My vanmates would stop to help the guy in front of me (traitors) — he was running with an iPod in the pocket of his basketball shorts and found it uncomfortable. (What is this, the local turkey trot?)

As they pulled away with his iPod, entrusted to return it to him at the next transfer point, they honked and he waved at them. What he didn’t know is that they were honking at me as I approached from behind. He was surprised to see me. We smiled at each other and I said, “I hope you like running in the rain.”

Drying off after 24 hours of racing on fumes.

The rain lasted until I hit the mile 2 mark, after which it quickly eased off to a drizzle. At that point, it was all downhill, less than a mile to go. I managed a 6:55 pace for that one. How delightful. Stats: 2.92 miles in 22:03 (7:33 pace), 94% effort. Thanks, Lunesta!

With that I was done. All that remained was to get changed out of my soaking clothes and wait for food. I needed food. I was starving.

But first, again, our team had two more legs to run. Then we needed to engage in our final transfer of timekeeping accessories and wristband to Van 2. This part is also something of a blur. I vaguely remember talking to Robert and having him tell me that he puked several times while racing the night before. That was also where we saw The Amber Van with Ambers done up in full bird of paradisery.

I also groggily posted a few Facebook updates, since we’d been in a total digital access dead zone for much of the previous day. I can’t use my iPod’s onscreen keyboard with any adeptness normally. This morning, I was a complete spastic. As a result, I ended up accepting one of Apple’s auto-completed words and posted an update that moments later completely mystified me.

“Pikers?” What did I mean by that? I’ve seen Snatch, but that wasn’t what I meant. For over 20 minutes, I wracked my addled, rusty brain. What had I been trying to say?

Teammate Amy finally figured it out, although she was laughing so hard that she could barely get the word out. “Pukers! Pukers!”

Lots of pikers, but not me.

A few moments later, teammate Matt removed his second layer and revealed a very interesting tee shirt. We were, um, impressed.

I remember breakfast because it was probably the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten. I knew what I wanted: protein, carbs and salt. And caffeine. Sure, I had to request a meal with a ridiculous name — the “Cock-A-Doodle-Doo” — a name that didn’t even really make sense, since it was poached eggs over sourdough with lox (later on I realized there was a joke in there: the “Cock-A-Doodle-Jew”), with a side of hash browns. I practically ate my plate.

What a total dick.

Since we were done and our Van 2 teammates were still racing, we had a leisurely breakfast. Once sufficiently stuffed, we waddled back out to the van and made our way to the finish.

I have to say that the finish was a bit anticlimactic. For one thing, it was really hot again. So we sought out shade and loafed, waiting for Van 2 to come in. They arrived around 11:30 (we were over 40 minutes under our predicted time). We all ran to the finish line together and it was time to eat again.

Now, here’s my one criticism of the race organizers (I’m sure there were other lapses, but I was too tired to notice them) — if you’ve got people coming to you for lunch after running for 24-36 hours, you’d damn well better have enough food. There were ultra guys — teams of six (that’s around 35 miles of racing apiece) — coming in.

We lined up for food and I was surprised at how little there was. Worse (but I suppose this was a good thing), we were sternly instructed to only take one item: a burger or a piece of chicken, and one potato, etc. This was just crazy. I’ve seen more food available at the finish of 10 mile races.

We collapsed on the grass, ate our parsimonious portions, and tried to ignore the live bluegrass band. I think everyone had pretty much had it, because we made haste to the vans in order to start the journey home. After a quick transfer of foodstuffs and borrowed equipment, there were hugs all around and we piled back into the van — at least for me, it was with an odd mixture of eagerness and reluctance. Eagerness to get home. Reluctance to get back into the van. Eagerness to get out of the heat. Reluctance to end this crazy trip.

My vanmates

I would be remiss if I didn’t present a portrait of my vanmates.

“The Captain” (who wishes to remain completely anonymous, I suspect because he has a real job) is a still-waters-run-deep kind of guy. I initially thought he was standoffish. Then I revised my assessment to shy. Eventually, I realized he’s just quiet, observant and reflective. He lent a dimension of calm to a group that was otherwise fairly high-energy, verging on hysteria at times. I was glad he was half of the team in charge.

The infamously (and somewhat disturbingly) monkey-armed “Tennille” is Pigtails Flying. I’d met TK a couple of times previously and I knew her to be extremely extroverted and approachable. I’ll even go so far as to say fun loving. TK was a delight to be with and she had a sense of humor about her own tendency to randomly go all Control Freak on us. She is a natural leader and, as with The Captain, I was likewise happy to have her co-running the show. She also sent me (and presumably the other runners) a thank you note — I think she got this backwards — it seems within seconds of returning home. Her mamma raised a girl with manners.

Mike and Matt are identical twins. I found it difficult to tell them apart at times, although I finally figured out that their eyes are slightly different in shape. But I was able to distinguish them primarily by their voices. Mike was also the chattier of the two. I knew Matt already as host of the Dump Runners Club podcast. They frequently talked over each other and were engaged in a constant, seamless comedic exchange that would often crescendo into something that was so funny that it approached a total transcendence of space, time and dreariness.

Finally, there was Amy (“The Flying Finn”), a twentysomething runner, triathlete, soccer goddess and photographer extraordinaire (thanks for the blog snaps). Amy and I met at our GMR drinks meetup last month. I had thought at the time that she was reserved, verging on staid. But I quickly learned that, once put into an environment in which she a) could be heard and b) could be appreciated for her intelligence and wit, she was Ms. Personality (this reminds me of someone I’ve known all my life, but her name escapes me). She does a mean (and I do mean “mean”) Canadian accent and out-raunched and out-snarked all of us. She was also an excellent bedmate.

Race Report: Green Mountain Relay (Part 2)

In our last exciting installment, we hadn’t even started racing yet. Well hold onto your Baby Wipes, kids, because this is where the party starts.

Incidentally, did you ever notice that Baby Wipes smell like jelly donuts? We did.

Van 1, being Van 1 (a tautology, to be sure), started first. Since our two co-captains are in the federal witness protection program or something, they don’t wish to be identified, so I will simply refer to them as The Captain and (Toni) Tennille. Toni was our starter. After picking up our bibs and other accessories (and noting that one team had estimated their average pace per mile at 4:30 — I suspect it was the Canadians. Thinking in kilometers, those crazy northerners. I guess their little brains must be frozen!), Toni lined up with three other team starters and we eagerly awaited the official start of our racing adventure.

One other thing I should mention is that it was fucking hot. Probably around 82 at the start. Full sun. And a steady, hot headwind.

Another thing — I’m skipping around, I know — the van parked directly across from ours had a blowup sex doll strapped to the front. At the start, she was perky and upright. But as the race wore on, we would see her again, in various stages of decline. Just a few hours later, she had collapsed, her head suggestively lodged in her own crotch. Still later, she was a shell of her former bloated self, a dessicated, sagging sack of tawdriness long departed.

Okay. Back to the race. Since this is all about me, I’ll just move onto my leg 1. It was classified as “Hard” and consisted of 6.6 miles with around 2.5 going up a steep grade. One section was over a mile straight uphill. It was probably around 86 degrees when I started at 1PM. As typically happens, I started racing and thought, “Well, this isn’t so bad.”

Within a mile, though, it was bad. I’d had plans to run the first leg at between 75-82% to save myself for the other races. Those plans went out the window as I watched my HR shoot up to 95% as I struggled to run 10:00 uphill. The wind had picked up too, around 15mph steady. There was virtually no shade. It was hard. Had I not been acclimated from some other hot races, and getting water every couple of miles, I don’t know that I could have finished the leg at the effort I was running.

A race through Hades.

I kept my HR at 92% average (that’s half marathon effort for me) and was really careful about paying attention to how I felt. One team dropped out after a runner of theirs collapsed, I think on this same leg (someone said it was 6.6 miles on Saturday at around 2PM). That would have put her about an hour behind me. She collapsed, out cold, broke teeth and had to be flown to an ICU. Last we heard, on Monday, she was out of ICU but still in the hospital.

I finished up in 1:00:16 (9:10 pace), a time I was happy with considering the awful conditions. No one passed me, which was about my only goal, other than surviving. Now it was time to wait and see if that effort would destroy my two later races. I had a headache that wouldn’t go away until around 9PM, just an hour before I would run again. My stomach was also iffy, which always happens after a big effort in the heat. I was a little worried. As it turns out, I needn’t have been. But others were not so lucky.

We spent some of our free time at Ben & Jerry’s, although I wasn’t up for ice cream. Unfortunately they don’t run the ice cream factory on the weekend, so it was just us and a zillion other touristas, eating cups and cones of instant diabetes. In a state of semi-delirium I bought Jonathan a tee shirt with cows on it in the gift shop. Then we went and hung out in the post-apocalyptic van transfer zone featured in Part 1. I attempted to sleep, but it was impossible.

At the entrance to the parking area, a local pizzeria had set up a stand, somehow having constructed a brick oven pizza. It looked good, if you could stomach pizza after a day of racing in high heat and sun. The race course ran right by the al fresco pizzeria, about .15 miles before the end of that leg, which means people were sprinting through. As I was people watching and waiting for more runners, one poor guy staggered in and promptly let loose a prodigous offering of projectile vomit mere feet from the pizza stand. He would not stop. “There goes the pizza business,” I thought to myself.

The Ambers.

It was in this particular parking lot that I noticed what we would come to call “The Amber Van.” Team members’ names were written in pastels all over the windows. We’d hoped to see some Tiffanys, Britneys and Ashleys. Where they lacked in bimbo names, they made up in costumery, however. We pegged the woman to the right in the above photo (yellow shoes) as “Amber” and also discussed the distinct possibility that her breasts were, in fact, miracles of science. Their van was parked right next to us and its occupants, in flagrant violation of event rules (and common sense), were splayed out on the pavement, just waiting for another van to flatten them. We declined this invitation, tempting as it was.

We basically mocked every other team within eyesight. I had no idea there were people on this earth who could be as relentlessly and mercilessly critical as I am. I was in good, cruel company.

As the day wore on, I was aware of my own growing sense of filth. I had done the requisite wipe down in the back of the van (and change into my lounging shorts and tee shirt), but there’s really no replacement for a proper shower or bath. I accepted my stank and moved on. I had been forewarned.

We opted out of finding a restaurant for dinner — too much time pressure, and I didn’t really want a full meal sitting on my already delicate stomach anyway. I grazed through the day and evening on safe foods like bananas, bread and crackers.

Soon enough, it was time for leg #2. This was at 10PM at night. Whee! My first experience not only running, but racing, at night. This leg was friendlier, rated “Medium” — an even 4 miles on a slight uphill grade of .05% average. Practically flat. The temperature had dropped into the upper 60s, but now it was really humid. Still, better than what we got in the afternoon.

I started my run and immediately passed a runner from one of the slower teams. For the next few miles, I ran alone. I felt remarkably good considering my oven-running ordeal earlier. The experience of night racing was one of shifting, sensual impressions. I was not really paying attention to pace or distance. Aside from passing cars and race vans (and a few huge tractor trailers, all of whom considerately moved over and gave me room), I was aware of just a few things: the rhythmic slapping of my flats on the pavement, the sounds of dogs barking in the distance and the constellation of gnats illuminated by my headlamp, and which I had initially mistaken for drizzle. I really enjoyed this run.

At the 3.4 mile mark I heard someone approach from behind, what experienced relayers call a “ninja.” She was a younger woman, running 7:20s to my 7:55s. We said hello, noted the humidity and encouraged each other: “Good job.” I tried to stay with her, but couldn’t. That was fine. I was glad for the company for a minute, and she did pull me along for a bit. I was sorry when the run ended. Stats for that one were 4.08 miles (you can’t run the tangents unless you run in traffic; no thanks) in 32:16 (7:55 pace). Average effort for that one was 91%. I simply couldn’t run any harder than that.

I was now exhausted. I wolfed down some bread with semi-frozen Nutella. At 10:30, we still had two more race legs of our set of six to do, then a 40 minute drive to our cheap motel, where I would collapse and sleep the Sleep of the Dead for 90 minutes. But not before taking a shower to wash off the layer of skeev that covered me like cheap vinyl siding on a Neutra.*

Tomorrow: inclement weather, tasteless tee shirts, the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten, singing Kumbaya.

*See, this is why I pull in buckets of money as a writer. I sleep on a golden threaded pillow from my creatively facilitated earnings, people. Note the clever simile, followed by a sophisticated cultural reference that further contains a subtle reference to my age. Fucking brilliant, I tell you.

Race Report: Green Mountain Relay (Part 1)

If you’d told me that spending approximately 55  hours straight with a bunch of strangers — with well over half of those hours crammed into a smelly van — would be the most fun I’d have in quite awhile, I would have told you to go away and stop lying to me.

But it’s all true. I’ve drunk the relay race Kool-Aid. The Green Mountain Relay was a complete and utter gas, and I credit our two team co-captains and my fabulous teammates for that (with a tip of the hat to the race organizers too). Good people all, and pretty damned good runners to boot.

I’m not bragging or anything, but we kicked ass on that course, even in terrible conditions. More on that in a bit. We placed 6th out of 46 teams. 2nd in our division (“mixed” — meaning guys and gals, all ages). We ran our little hearts out, finishing in 25:15:30 for 200 miles. That’s an average pace of 7:40 per mile.

Our adventure began at a car rental place on West 96th Street on Friday morning. Since our 12 would be divided up into two teams of six for most of the trip, we were jumbled up for the ride to Vermont, mixing members of Teams 1 and 2 so we could mingle. I did at least half the driving, since driving staves off carsickness and I figured I may as well contribute while I still had energy.

"Don't get out of the van. Never get out of the van."

Perhaps this is why we managed to miss an early exit, something we noticed only when we saw signs for Plattsburg (“Hey, isn’t that the last town before the Canadian border?”). Luckily (very luckily), there is a ferry to Vermont that goes across Lake Champlain, and it was running every 10 minutes. Crisis averted.

At an early rest area, we were approached by some people from another team. They didn’t seem that organized. We asked them what their team name was and they didn’t even know. Losers. It was easy to spot the other runners because everyone else in the place weighed about 400 lbs.

On the way we stopped somewhere, I don’t know where, for lunch at a pizza place. There we surreptitiously mocked the waitress (who was also the cook, and who may also have been the town whore). And learned a new expression for ordering pizza in Vermont. She cryptically referred to a “four cut” and an “eight cut.” We had no clue what she was saying until she brought out the order. Oh. Okay. Four slices. Eight slices. Then the theory emerged that she was actually crazy and the only person in the world who uses that expression. (I forgot to try it in our Italian restaurant that evening to see if it was a Vermonticism.)

Petrified frog in the parking lot of the La Quinta. It was crushed by someone or something by the time we left.

On the way up we talked about, surprise, running! It’s fun to spend time with people who are similarly obsessed and single minded. Eventually the conversation opened up to other topics, but not for several hours.

In no time we were at our destination, the La Quinta inn of St. Albans, VT. Two members short (they would arrive on a late evening train), we headed out to dinner at our second fine eating establishment. There I had some sort of odd local raspberry beer that I couldn’t decide if I liked or not. It tasted vaguely of shampoo.

Dinner was fun. I was sorry I had to say goodbye to half the table the next morning, at least until we saw them at the first van exchange. So, here’s how a relay works, briefly: On a 12 person team, you’ve got two vans. Each van runs six “legs” of the race, and then the next van takes over and they run their races. In the meantime, the non-running van attempts to rest and recuperate.

This cycle plays out three times. Every six races, the vans meet up at a transfer point and exchange the “baton” (a rubber wrist band that team members pass to one another from leg to leg) and the running stopwatch and sheet upon which everyone’s times are recorded.

Teams start at different times, according to projections made that are based on the members’ 10K times. So slower teams start very early in the morning (like at 4AM or something) and faster teams start later. The goal is to have everyone come in within several hours of each other so we can all have burgers and potatoes and sing Kumbaya together. We started at 10:30AM with a handful of other teams.

A transfer point. Nice, huh?

The transfer points are big, because all the vans meet up. With 46 teams, that’s a lot of vans. As the race progresses, people are more and more exhausted and between the crappy parking lots, filthy vans and runners strewn on the ground trying to sleep, it’s positively post-apocalyptic. As you can well imagine, this was quite the thrill for me. It was like being in a real, live zombie movie!

Tomorrow: dangerous heat, Ben & Jerry’s, acceptance of filth, Puke-a-palooza, the magic of racing in the dark.

Why it pays to get old. And other photos.

Jonathan’s gone pro. Here’s a photo of his first race winnings: $200 for winning 2nd in the masters division of the Ridgewood, NJ 10K.

This works out to about $.0000000008 per mile trained.

Some shots of Jonathan at today’s Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation 5K in New Canaan, CT. He was second overall, beaten by a 15 year old.

Looking confident and relaxed. Note the enormous watch.

Warming up and looking like the cat that ate the canary. I think this is one of the best photos I've ever taken of him.

Bats out of hell at 5:10 per mile.

I took a finish photo, but it’s a terrible picture. So, onto the a cooldown shot. Splendor in the grass…

I can't remember why he's laughing. I think I insulted him or something.

New Canaan High School has a great old track. It’s probably not even that old, but the numbers are very old timey. I took some art shots while killing time.

I may need to make a painting out of this one.

Me like triangles.

Standard shot. You can find a zillion just like this in any stock photo library. I'm embarrassed that I even took it, frankly.

Number 3. The larch. The. Larch.

And finally. The best singlet I’ve seen in a long, long while…

Sure, the Scots are thrifty. But they're also very funny.

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